For those accustomed to thinking of glass as a polished, pristine material, French-Lebanese artist Flavie Audi’s creations may come as something of a shock. Stripped of function and celebrated for its morphology, glass in her hands appears sometimes liquid, at others weightily solid; always, however, it gives the impression of having been formed by nature rather than human ingenuity. Audi’s jagged spheres resemble boulders from outer space, while her rippled panels recall the fluid portals that separate worlds in sci-fi movies. With the addition of iridescent pigments and curious chemical reactions created by melting glass with resin and precious metals, their effect is quite uncanny.
London-based Audi’s work is sufficiently striking to have caught the eye of celebrated gallerist Nina Yashar, founder of Nilufar Gallery. This summer, Yashar is dedicating part of her sprawling Nilufar Depot space in northern Milan to a solo show by the artist. “Audi perfectly represents today’s hybrid world,” she says. “She reflects a lot on current issues, and has a critical vision of the future of the planet. Her work is fascinating and original.”
Post-lockdown circumstances permitting, the exhibition will run from the end of June until November, and will feature a series of works grouped together under the title Terra (In)firma. Among them will be the Gemscape panels, which incorporate rock- and bubble-like forms suspended in pools of glass and resin (imagine an aerial photograph of an extraterrestrial landscape, but in technicolour); and the Hyperterrestrial sphere (2017), made of black resin studded with glistening globules of coloured glass.
Hyperterrestrial 1, 2018
Audi reflects a lot on current issues, and has a critical vision of the future of the planet. Her work is fascinating and original.
What message is Audi seeking to communicate with these otherworldly objects? In part, they muse on our plundering of Earth’s natural resources and imagine what a ‘post-human’ landscape might look like. “I try to define a utopian, speculative future where humans create cosmic fragments and new types of geological formations,” says the artist. “Their origins could lie in a mythical celestial factory, deep inside the earth, in outer space, or in biological cells.” Terra (In)firma, she adds, not only evokes the “vulnerable and unstable” state of the planet and its elements, but also the contradictions of our dual dependency on nature and technology, with its ongoing battle between the physical and digital worlds. Iridescence is a recurring theme in the exhibition as it suggests our “constant oscillation between the real and the virtual. We shift between realms in the same way that colours shift on an iridescent surface.”
Though it imagines a possible future, Audi’s work also has roots in the past. Growing up in Lebanon, she spent summer holidays on a nature reserve. “My grandfather started a community there among the rock formations,” she remembers. “He would surprise us by putting wooden doors and furniture in between the rocks to create miniature forms of architecture. This elevation of the rocks and the sense of contiguity with geology left a strong impression on me.” Later, when she came to London to study at the Architectural Association, Audi had her first encounter with glass while making 3D models. “I constructed load-bearing walls using undulating, de-formed glass sheets,” she explains. “I was seduced by its sculptural potential.”
She went on to do an MA in ceramics and glass at the Royal College of Art, remaining more drawn to the latter. “I felt more challenged by its enigmatic qualities – it absorbs and reflects light, and exists on the border between absence and presence.” Unmoved by much of the glass architecture in our urban landscapes, which she found “sterile, dull and generic”, she developed a more sophisticated artistic language around the material “that could reveal sensuality, humanity and life”.
Gemscape 3, 2017
Further inspiration came from Japanese rock gardens, Chinese gongshi (or “scholars’ rocks”, which are traditionally revered in the Far East as objects of contemplation) and the work of American artist Georgia O’Keeffe, “for her colours, shapes and passion for rocks”. Audi’s Gemscape series is also influenced by old oriental landscape paintings. “In these compositions, cosmic forces and the ceaseless renewal of the universe are embedded within the features of the land,” she says. In her futuristic versions, though, something else looms large – the LCD screen, omnipresent in our modern world. Her rectangular glass panels “echo liquid crystal’s colourful, free-flowing state when viewed under a macro lens”, and consider the potential of digital technology to create new kinds of materiality. Ultimately, Audi’s work asks us this question: how far can we go to both emulate and surpass nature?
Evidently a deep thinker, Audi is expanding her material universe beyond glass. For her Nilufar show, she’s experimented with digital carving, new spray-painting technology and rapid prototyping as well as traditional craft techniques. “What fascinates me is how these different things come together,” she says. “The man-made and the robotic processes are blurred, so the work looks earthy, aquatic and digitally rendered all at the same time. I like my work to have a certain mystery, because the most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious.”
She’s currently working on a series of acrylic paintings, but her ultimate ambition is to translate her ideas into architecture. “Spaces that reveal humanity, ethereality and sensuality through glass, and blend gemmology and geology,” she muses. Audi’s is an idealist’s vision of the future – one where nature and artifice have ceased to be at loggerheads, and co-exist in harmony – but could it happen? “Every day, new materials are being created that blur the distinction between the synthetic and the natural,” she argues. “Perhaps in future, there will be no need to discriminate between the two?”